If most Canadians are unaware the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party is in the final throes of a leadership contest, they can be forgiven—most people in Saskatchewan don’t know either.
In a recent poll, Praxis Analytics found 63 per cent of Saskatchewanians could not name a single candidate in the race, which will be determined at a convention on March 9. Perhaps more astonishing, 45 per cent were totally unaware the NDP—once considered Saskatchewan’s natural governing party—is having a leadership convention at all.
As the official Opposition, the NDP holds just nine of the province’s 58 seats. The remaining 49 are held by the Saskatchewan Party, formed in 1997 by Liberal and Progressive Conservative MPs. Disgruntled centrists saw the merger as the only way to oust the NDP juggernaut, which had governed Saskatchewan for most of the last 70 years.
While Saskatchewan NDP president Cory Oxelgren acknowledges the low profile of the race, he blames it on a lack of acrimony between the candidates. (The three leadership candidates are locked in a three-way tie.)
“If there was more divisiveness, there might be more headlines,” he says.
But the popularity of Premier Brad Wall, first elected in 2007, has certainly not helped. With its wealth of natural resources, the province emerged from the recession relatively unscathed, and Wall reaped much of the credit. His approval rating of 67 per cent makes him the most popular premier in Canada.
Still, Oxelgren is confident the party can mount a comeback in the next election. “I’m not worried that we will disappear.”